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Yitro 5782 ~ January 21, 2022

The revelation of God to Moses and the Children of Israel at Mt. Sinai remains one of the most powerful stories of religion ever to be told. The reading of the “Aseret Ha’Dibrot,” the Decalogue, during our Shabbat services provides a heightened awareness of the quintessential cornerstone of God’s lessons to understanding life.  If we appreciate God’s role in the creation and history of the world and the Jewish people, we can then understand the role He plays in our lives as well.  Our appreciation of the fundamental relationship with Adonai helps us to understand our relationships with others.

At moments, that concept of understanding others seems to be fraught with thorns, especially when we are caught off guard. As we ended last week’s reading, we were quite aware of how others relate to the Jewish world and Jewish people. The Israelite nation, a fledgling nation, having just been freed from slavery, were ambushed by the Amalek nation. Throughout history, Amalek, has become synonymous with the worst type of person that the world has to offer, even worse than the Pharaoh himself. We witnessed Amalek once again rear its ugly head in Colleyville, TX, as we completed our reading last week. We are all mindful of the heroic efforts of Rabbi Charlie Cytron-Walker. We are grateful to the FBI, to the local police authorities and to everyone who assisted the Congregation Beth Israel family.  And yet, we wonder, how might have the events been different?

During these past few days, our congregational leadership has been attending security preparedness meetings arranged by the USCJ and the URJ to understand how best to protect our community. Rabbi Marc and others at Temple Emanu-El have also attended those zoom seminars. This coming Thursday, I will be attending one more of those sessions arranged by the same company that trained Rabbi Cytron-Walker. In the past, I have attended in-person sessions for security and active shooters arranged for the Jewish community of Boston through the Newton, MA police. I also have had training through  a congregant who, at the time, was the police chief of Ashland, MA, including additional security precautions that we instituted in my previous congregation. I am certain that as a congregation, moving forward, our leadership will be quite vigilant in leading us in assuring that we are prepared and safe.

As our Torah reading for this Shabbat, Yitro, ends, it instructs those who are constructing the altar for sacrifices, that the stones and rocks used to create the altar may not be hewn, and that no sword or metal object may be used in its construction. Items of metal may not be used since they represent that which is diametrically opposite to what God demands and requires from human beings. In our security meetings, we were made to understand what are good practices in preparedness and what are simply not.

As the NY Times article pointed out just a few days ago, we as a Jewish community have to return to our shuls without the fear of another Amalekite at our door, as happened in Colleyville, TX. And, as we gained from our training this week, we need to simply understand how to be prepared, rather than be filled with trepidation. Here in America, we hope not to have to resort to the guarded fortresses that shuls have now become in Europe. We simply need to be smart in our safety and preparedness.

One of the questions that I posted to my colleagues this past week on Ravnet became a source of much discussion amongst us. I asked: “In reading The NY Times this am, there is something related to how the terrorist gained entrance that is somewhat disturbing. 

It is quite clear to me that the shul was secure, until they opened the door to let the terrorist in who feigned to be a homeless person, giving him a cup of tea.

I open up this matter for discussion amongst us since in many instances our congregants and many of us would be so inclined as well to do the same re: tikkun olam.”

The question that I posed to my colleagues is one that we, as a community, must be quite cognizant of as well.  As we move forward, we must continue on our journey of tikkun olam.  That is one of the lessons of our Torah and the Decalogue.  It is one of our missions as a community. At the same time, we must also understand how to be most protective of our own selves.

One individual who was not so careful was Moses himself. When he slew the Egyptian taskmaster, he had not calculated the risk he posed to himself. Within our Torah reading for this Shabbat, Moshe actually recognizes that reality. To constantly remind himself of God’s role in saving him from the hand of Pharaoh, he named one of his sons Eliezer. Moshe explains the derivation of the name “For the God of my father was my help, and He delivered me from the sword of Pharaoh.”

Thankfully, this past Shabbat, God was there for the hostages. It was that knowledge that kept Rabbi Charlie calm and prepared and able to make what turned out to be the right decisions. I know that we are all grateful for that reality.

One last thought: while we in the Jewish community were overwhelmed by the events, I have come to learn, simply in my interaction with others in our area this week, that the events were glanced over by many of them. I was personally taken aback by the fact that the events at Beth Israel were no different than any other item of news that might have been heard. I was also somewhat disturbed that in a meeting with some clergy this week, not one individual made mention of the events to me, nor asked me my thoughts, feelings or fears.  I guess there is still a lot of work that we need to do.

Sat, June 25 2022 26 Sivan 5782